The Everyday Question You’re Getting Wrong

There is a question that we find ourselves answering all the time.  It seems like a simple one, and yet we so often get the answer wrong.  An inaccurate reply may have consequences that influence our ability to plan for and fully enjoy our lives.  The question is, “Who are you?” or as it is more commonly posed, “What do you do?”.

Part of the problem of this question is in the asking.  Unfortunately, this question has become a bit of a “filler” that comes immediately after learning someone’s name.  The asker doesn’t necessarily care what the answer is, so long as it helps to avoid a moment of uncomfortable silence.  If a person does listen to the reply, they may be using your occupation as a way to conveniently place you into a category (rich/poor, educated/uneducated, interesting/boring).

If I were to take a quick poll of people I work with, I would see answers like the following:

  • Chemist
  • Educator
  • Engineer
  • Entrepreneur
  • Landlord
  • Mental Health Worker
  • Physician
  • Programmer
  • Retiree
  • Salesperson

While this is an accurate answer to the question of “occupation”, I would argue that this is not the best answer to the question of “Who are you?”.  Because what you do for a living is not necessarily the best reflection of a person’s values. If I were to ask the same group of people which of their titles means the most to them, the answers would likely change to ones like these:

  • Activist
  • Aunt/Uncle
  • Coach
  • Daughter/Son
  • Friend
  • Mentor
  • Parent
  • Pastor
  • Philanthropist
  • Sibling
  • Spouse
  • Volunteer

This is not the last layer of the onion, as I have come to discover with so many of my clients.  It seems that almost all of them can also fall under one or both of the headings “Adventurer” and/or “Artist”.  In many cases, this last answer to “Who are you?” gets to the identity that brings a unique type of joy to a person’s life.  Faces change when a conversation turns to the topics of creativity and exploration. Tension suddenly leaves the room and I can observe a certain liberation enter.  It turns out that the people I truly serve are often the following

  • Bicyclist
  • Hiker/Climber
  • Painter
  • Sailor
  • Woodworker
  • Fisherman
  • Fly Tyer
  • Musician
  • Photographer
  • Sculptor
  • World Traveler

The place where people are most likely to “get it right” may be Los Angeles, where your waitress is actually an actress (between roles), and your taxi driver isn’t at all shy about telling you he is a screenwriter!

It may seem like this conversation doesn’t have much of a place in the work of a financial planner, but I insist that it does.  For the doctor, she may not be happy until we have planned to fulfill her roles as a mother and a philanthropist, and she will be absolutely delighted when we fund her trip to Paris so she can work on her watercolors!  These could have both been missed opportunities if we only bothered to learn her name, occupation, and risk tolerance.

Take some time to list out all of your answers to “Who are you?”, and don’t be surprised if the list is long. Surround yourself with people who want to know and respect your many layers, and not just place you in a broad category.  Build a plan and don’t stop following it until you have inspired the artist and allowed the adventurer to set sail!

Related: 4 Reasons to Make a Movie … or Do Anything